What's the Valentine's Day equivalent of a grinch? Whatever you want to call it, I'm the epitome. So much so that even now, a full two weeks before the engraved "true love" photo frames get exchanged over over-priced prix fixe dinners, I'm already feeling ill-tempered.
I am grouchy about Valentine's Day in all the conventional ways, and more besides. I agree with those who complain that February 14 is a Hallmark holiday -- an occasion co-opted by marketers to get us to spend money on syrupy greeting cards and waxy chocolates. I am sure those cinnamon hearts that become ubiquitous in early February are rotting our children's guts and teeth. I don't think love should be defined by the size of a bouquet -- or restaurant bill. And I am unimpressed by crafts involving doilies.
But my problem with Valentine's Day also runs deeper. I find that it has always depressed me, no matter my circumstances -- single, happily married, in love, broken up, child, parent, no matter. So I assume it probably depresses other people too.
These glum feelings may stem from the fact Valentine's Day sets you up to compare your "love" to everyone else's. This is a time when you end up asking yourself things like, "Why don't I have a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/lover for whom to create a romantic coupon book that promises future fireside cuddles and date nights, like Celia did for Andrew?" Or "Why does my boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/lover not care enough about me to make me a romantic coupon book that promises future fireside cuddles and date nights, like Andrew did for Celia ?"
I cannot argue that this isn't partly a sign of my own inherent insecurity about feeling loved. I cannot promise you that I'm not in need of a few rounds of therapy and a stack of self-help books filled with affirmations about loving my belly button unconditionally before setting it free to be loved by others. But honestly, who isn't just a bit uncertain when it comes to love? Do we really need to dedicate a day of each year to exacerbating those anxieties and self-doubts?
I have heard many defenses of Valentine's Day, but I find few of them
• "Kids love it." Sure, some kids do. The kids who get more heart-shaped cake balls and cute "Bee Mine" cardlets than everyone else in the class. The kids whose hopefully decorated paper-bag mailboxes end up half empty tend to be less keen .
• "It makes you appreciate the love you have." It should. And it could. But often it doesn't because it's a day so saturated with images and notions of "ideal" love (true and pure and unquestioned) that it's just too hard for the real-life instances of love (complicated and exhausting and ebbing and flowing) to measure up.
• "It's got a long history." Yes, it started as a celebration of Christian saints and the whole romantic love bit dates back hundreds of years to Chaucer's time. But so does leprosy. Not everything that's been around for ages is worth hanging on to.
• "It's no worse than Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other holiday." Yes, it is. People get depressed on Christmas and Thanksgiving because they don't have loved ones to spend them with or because their loved ones depress them. But at least these holidays offer a focus beyond oneself. Being grateful, giving to others -- these are more universally helpful and constructive things to ponder than romantic love, which is not something that can be manifested or created through good intentions.
If you enjoy Valentine's Day, more power to you. But if you don't, and are looking for a sympathetic curmudgeon to gripe to in about two weeks, you know where to find me. Just hold the cupid emoticons.